Hockey is for everyone: A deeper look

Governor General David Johnson at All-Star weekend

Along with all of the All-Star weekend hooplah came the most recent installment of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone campaign.  Canadian Governor General, David Johnson, with Gary Bettman and former Boston Bruin (and first black NHL’er), Willie O’Ree  were on hand at Rideau Hall to announce the introduction of the H.E.R.O.S program in Ottawa.  The H.E.R.O.S program, which started in Vancouver in 1999, stands for Hockey Education Reaching Out Society.  It attempts to “use the game of hockey to attract at-risk-youth to a program that offers support for education and serves as a catalyst for self esteem building and life skills training.”

The H.E.R.O.S program offers a plethora of programming that addresses topics such as mentoring and drug awareness to tutoring and job placement.  From my preliminary evaluation it seems like quite a comprehensive program that is tackling some tough issues head on.  It also offers scholarship opportunities for post-secondary education (they’re not hockey scholarships) and a food hamper program.  For those who read my original post, Hockey is for everyone: A pretty good lie, I expressed concern about introducing so-called “at-risk” youth to a game that would, in most cases, remain out of reach; but, H.E.R.O.S attempts to help children stay involved in the game, if they so choose, by providing equipment and registration fees.  From its website, the H.E.R.O.S program seems to provide a relatively long-term model of “youth empowerment” but it is important to note that there are few reports included detailing the progress of the children in the program or what happens to them once they leave.  Furthermore, the presence of such programs continues to legitimize the private sector’s desire to provide social assistance without overtly holding the government responsible for the welfare of its citizens.

Bringing this back to All-Star weekend, my concern is less to do with the H.E.R.O.S program and more to do with the selling of how hockey is for everyone.  It’s quotes like the following that fail to acknowledge that individual desire and dedication do not always amount to success:

“If you think you can, you can,” said O’Ree. “If you think you can’t, you’re right. There’s a lot of truth to that. So, work hard — there’s no substitute for hard work.”

As the words flowed, Gov. Gen. David Johnston beamed proudly — decked out in an NHL all-star jersey. Behind him, Desjardins’ wide-eyes shone through the cage of his mask.

“It was very inspiring hearing Willie O’Ree,” said Desjardins afterward — and before hitting the ice for a game of shinny with the likes of Kyle Turris, Todd White and Laurie Boschman. “Saying that if you set a goal for yourself, you can always reach it.”

If you think you can, you can makes a great sound bite but there are plenty of people who have thought long and hard about their hockey potential only to never have it realized.  The existence of the H.E.R.O.S program (available in Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal) is in itself a statement that thinking you can is not enough.  It’s time we call a spade a spade and stop blaming underprivileged children for their lack of successes.  In saying “if you think can, you can” we are inherently saying, if you can’t it’s your fault, which, although this may be true some of the time, it is far from the truth for the majority.

5 thoughts on “Hockey is for everyone: A deeper look

  1. Interesting program that the NHL is running. It actually sounds quite well thought out, especially for something tied to such a massive and problematic organization, though like many sport for development organizations they may not have a strong monitoring and evaluation system to determine if their programs are actually achieving any of the things that they claim.

  2. Also, I agree with you about the problems with pushing a “if you try hard enough you’ll succeed” agenda. Ironically, the people who succeed (through a combination of hard work, dedication, and luck) despite the social/cultural/economic barriers they face are often the ones who are most critical of those who cannot overcome those same barriers.

    I have a ton of admiration for Willie O’Ree, but I cringe when I hear some of the rhetoric he uses about self-improvement through hard work (without providing an accompanying critical view of his experiences). I greatly respect O’Ree for overcoming the challenges that he did. However, I wish that he did not have to overcome those challenges in the first place, and that the many other talented Black hockey players that preceded him did not have their careers stifled by racist structures.

  3. Two thumbs up for this program! Keep up the good work!

    S.H.A.R.P. is another good hockey program for at-risk youth. It has operated for seven years and served over 600 young people.

    Hockey is more than just a game. Hockey helps teach the importance of a positive attitude, teamwork, dedication and most of all – how to have fun.

  4. Hi Courtney,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your two ‘hockey is for everyone’ posts. They’ve raised at a lot of interesting issues that I think are pretty relevant for sport for development programs. You might also want to check out Right to Play’s PLAY (Promoting Life skills for Aboriginal Youth). It includes an Hockey for Development component.
    I just wrote a blog post about it that sort of echos your own –

  5. Pingback: Roundtable: The NHL and NHLPA Partner with the You Can Play Project | Hockey in Society

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